All the readings this Sunday are reflected in Jesus’ words, “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that someone has anything against you, leave your gift and first be reconciled. Then come and offer your gift – from a heart that is united with God and all peoples!"
People throughout the world are paving the road to reconciliation through their willingness to forgive. Whether in war-torn countries overseas or families throughout the United States and Canada shattered by acts of violence, they personify the words of Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis: “No peace without justice; no justice without forgiveness.” Justice needs to be seen from the biblical perspective: Fidelity in all our relationships.
In South Sudan, where I had been for eighteen years, I had met many heralds of peace where we had a House of Prayer & Peace in the midst of an ongoing civil war and ethnic clashes. One outstanding example was a young Sudanese man named Ben whose father had been murdered by a member of another tribe. It is the custom of many tribes that when a person is killed, the elder son or someone in the family is responsible for retaliating. There is a belief that a person who is murdered does not sleep in peace after death until the crime is retaliated. Even among Sudanese who are Christians, there is still a deep belief that the person who was killed does not sleep in peace until the person’s death is avenged as violently as the loved one died.
Ben held in his heart for a couple of years the sorrow of his father’s death, and many of his relatives encouraged him to retaliate, as was the custom in his tribe. However, Ben, a Christian, knew he could not retaliate. He had been blessed in experiencing that there was no freedom in his heart without forgiveness. He went to see the man who killed his father and invited him and his family to a ritual of reconciliation. They slaughtered a bull and sprinkled the blood where both families were gathered. The wrongdoer asked forgiveness from Ben’s Family, as well as his own. Then both families celebrated their re-connectedness by sharing a meal. Ben and his family knew that their beloved father was redeemed not through violence but through forgiveness and love!
This story illustrates several aspects of the reconciliation process, which theologian Robert Schreiter, CPPS, examines from a Christian perspective in his book, The Ministry of Reconciliation: Spirituality & Strategies. He brings out that “God initiates the work of reconciliation, usually with the victim.” Often through the victim, the wrongdoer is called to repentance, bringing about reconciliation for both victim and wrongdoer. But even when the wrongdoer does not repent, forgiveness transforms the victim.
Forgiveness is also about reclaiming the humanity that evil has tried to destroy. Accepting the grace of forgiveness moves one from being a victim to being a survivor, who often becomes a minister of healing to others. Forgiveness is a sure sign of God’s presence among us!
To sum up our scripture for today: We need to be signs of God’s love which practices justice. Biblically, justice is fidelity in all our relationships. God’s signature is scrawled across the face of every person – every person’s life matters to God. I share here an adapted version of The Prayer from the Mass for the Progress of Peoples (Roman Missal) which can be our prayer today and everyday:
O God, You gave one origin to all peoples, and You gather us in Your heart as One Earth Community.
You are blessing us with the fire of Your love and longing for Oneness.
Kindle in us a desire for the just advancement of our neighbor;
that each human person may be brought to wholeness, every division may disappear,
and equity and justice may be established for all of humanity.
May we see ourselves and others with the same love and delight
with which You, O God, see us in every moment of the day and night.
We offer this prayer through Jesus the Christ,
who lived, died and rose for us that all may be One!
Photo: Maryknoll Sister Theresa Baldini with a family in Narus, South Sudan. Photo courtesy of the Maryknoll Sisters.